Investigation Launched NWSL After Allegations Of Misconduct Within Franchise, Probe Commenced By FIFA And US Soccer
October 4, 2021
National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird has resigned following a string of abuse allegations against Paul Riley, who has been fired as of coach of the North Carolina Courage.
Both FIFA and US Soccer have subsequently opened a probe into the league since the reveltions were broken by The Athletic and announcements made which saw the sacking of Riley.
When the allegations first broke on Thursday, September 30th, Baird issued a statement from the league, saying:
“I was shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations reported in the Athletic this morning. The league, in concert with the North Carolina Courage, has reacted swiftly in response to these new allegations, and former head coach Paul Riley has been terminated. Concurrently, we are reporting these new allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation. A safe and secure work environment is a top priority for the league and its collective ownership.
“The league has in place a comprehensive anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy. In addition, the league has mandated that league and team staff who regularly interact with players participate in training conducted by the US Center for SafeSport, and is further mandating background checks and additional screening for those same individuals.
“We are implementing a new anonymous reporting process, whereby players, team and league staff may text concerns to the league, which will be promptly investigated. We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive, and respectful environment for our players, clubs, staff, and fans.”
However, the uproar continued ahead of the weekend and the league ultimately decided to postpone all of the fixtures that were meant to be taking place to be rescheduled at a later date.
The league then released a new statement on Sunday, October 3, stating:
The National Women’s Soccer League’s board of governors today announced the formation of an executive committee to manage oversight of the league’s front office operations, following the resignation of its commissioner. The committee includes Amanda Duffy (Orlando Pride), Angie Long (Kansas City NWSL), and Sophie Sauvage (OL Reign). A global search for a permanent commissioner is underway.
“On behalf of the entire league, we are heartbroken for what far too many players have had to endure in order to simply play the game they love, and we are so incredibly sorry,” said the three executive committee members. “We understand that we must undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation to address the issues required to become the type of league that NWSL players and their fans deserve and regain the trust of both. We’re committed to doing just that and recognize that this won’t happen overnight, but only through vigilance over time.”
The league is immediately launching several critical investigative and reform initiatives to protect players and staff, and the environments in which athletes live, train, and compete to give athletes the agency and ability to safely report misconduct of any form.
The league has retained Covington & Burling to oversee these investigations and make recommendations for reforms. Amanda Kramer, former Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, will lead the firm’s team and will report directly to the NWSL board’s newly-formed executive committee (described above).
Those initiatives include:
- An independent review of practices and policies at the league and club levels — including workplace policies for each club in the league, league-mandated anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, and processes for identifying, investigating, and enforcing violations of those policies — to identify and reform deficiencies. The league will work with the players association to ensure that the results of these team and league reviews will serve as a road map to ensure safe environments for players and staff.
- Comprehensive policies and procedures created for the league and all member clubs to ensure moving forward that there is a systematic, transparent, and effective execution of any harassment or workplace conduct issues.
- A reopening of the 2015 investigation regarding former NWSL coach Paul Riley, including a review of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Portland Thorns FC, and his subsequent hiring by Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage.
- A review of the available investigative reports related to all historical complaints of discrimination, harassment, or abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) in the NWSL, and where necessary, a reopening of the respective investigation, or the initiation of a new adjudication process.
- The continuation of ongoing investigations initiated under the NWSL’s current anti-harassment policy, and the recommendation of sanctions where appropriate.
In addition to the above-mentioned initiatives, and the NWSL’s current reporting avenues outlined in the league’s anti-harassment policy and detailed HERE, the league has partnered with RealResponse, the leading secure and anonymous reporting platform for sports teams and organizations. Players, former players, staff, former staff, and anyone with direct knowledge of, or witness to, misconduct in any form within the NWSL, will have the ability to anonymously report all issues in regard to their health and safety. The contact information will be made available to current players and staff.